COLUMBIA, South Carolina — One of the first players South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier signed to turn the program around is now part of the school's athletic hall of fame.
The late Kenny McKinley, the school's career leader with 207 receptions, was among eight players elected to the hall. The school announced the group Tuesday.
McKinley was a dynamic, happy go-lucky player who became one of Spurrier's favorites for his upbeat demeanor, his relentless work ethic and his skill at catching footballs. While with the Denver Broncos, McKinley committed suicide in 2010 after authorities found he was struggling in debts.
Still, McKinley was in good spirits only a few weeks earlier when he visited his college team and was introduced to the crowd.
"I loved him," South Carolina receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said at the time of his death. "He was a great player and a great person."
Others named to the hall were longtime NFL defensive back Sheldon Brown, ex-basketball standout Devan Downey, the only men's soccer coach South Carolina has ever had in Mark Berson, The rest of the class includes former Olympic sprinter Miki Barber, 1980s softball standout Karen Sanchelli and ex-baseball players Greg Ward and David Marchbanks.
All will be honored at ceremonies Sept. 10 and will be introduced to the crowd at South Carolina's game against Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 12.
McKinley, from Marbleton, Georgia, was a stellar, dual-threat quarterback in college who Spurrier turned into one of the most reliable possession receivers in South Carolina history. The six-foot receiver was unafraid to slip between defenders in the middle of the field, holding onto the ball when he was certain to take significant hits.
McKinley played at South Carolina from 2005 through 2008. He finished his career with 19 touchdowns and 2,781 yards, the yardage total second only to Alshon Jeffrey in the Gamecock record book. McKinley also finished with a school record of 43 consecutive games with at least one catch.
At the one-year anniversary of McKinley's death in 2011, Spurrier recalled his former star's positive attitude and his precision at running routes.
"We still talk about him every now and then, when we're running slants. I tell them, 'Here's how Kenny McKinley did it,'" Spurrier recalled. "And I don't remember him ever being covered. He got open every time because he had that little quick step that got him open and we're trying to teach our guys how to run that also. We remember Kenny and he was an outstanding player here, no question."
Brown played with the Gamecocks from 1998-2001 and was an all-Southeastern Conference selection in 2001 and 2002. He played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns.
Downey finished his career as South Carolina's fourth-leading scorer after transferring from Cincinnati.
Berson started the men's soccer varsity team in 1978 and has been coach ever since, making the NCAA national semifinals in 1988 and 1993. He is Division I college soccer's active leader with 472 career wins.